Research Insight

U.S. Executives’ Reaction to the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer



In New York, we convened a mix of Fortune 50 communicators, executives, NGOs, former government officials and senior members of the media to preview the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer findings, prior to the official rollout at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Each year, the preview gives us an opportunity to test run the data, collect feedback and insights and help shape how we think and talk about the results.

Here’s what the study prompted:

Why trust is down across institutions:

There was general agreement among our guests that insecurity is a significant factor in the decline of trust across business, media and NGOs. We are in a moment of great insecurity, triggered by data breaches, volatility in the financial markets and the rise of hostile forces across the globe. As one leading cyber-security expert noted, it’s hard to be trusting when you are insecure about everything from the safety of your personal data to the physical and financial safety of you and your family.

On leadership and trust in executives:

For the past few years, our study has shown a slow recovery of credibility in CEOs. That trend has reversed: Only 43 percent of those surveyed think CEOs are credible spokespeople, which is in stark contrast to academics and industry experts, who achieve credibility levels of 70 percent.

The head of a major foundation put the blame squarely on communications, and specifically, on the inauthenticity of CEO communications. He asserted that for a company to succeed, it must have a human voice – companies are led by people, and if your communications are too sanitized, no one will believe you.

On the profound concern about innovation and the pace of change:

Not surprisingly, the finding that generated the most attention and feedback was the lack of trust in innovation, with 51 percent of Barometer respondents saying innovation is happening too fast. Generally speaking, our New York audience fully subscribes to the need to innovate, but they do understand why we are seeing such a significant lack of trust.

First and foremost, innovation has been sorely abused as a term, diminishing both its meaning and importance. Second, innovation can be viewed cynically as an excuse for price increases or negligible, incremental change. Finally, people felt there is a widely held perception that innovation centers, including Silicon Valley, are defined by a culture of arrogance, versus constructive engagement. What’s lacking is context. The general consensus was that when innovation faces set-backs, it is all more important to provide context for why it is needed – people must know the purpose, the end game. Those who get it right are clearer about the overall societal benefit, be it practical, like job creation, or high impact, like major improvements to our health and well-being.

Regarding integrity and engagement:

So what’s the solution to the overall lack of trust? As one CEO noted, you can’t underestimate the importance of thinking about who really matters for the success of a company, and to connect with them in good times and in bad. You can’t go to D.C., for instance, only when you’re under fire, or connect with your customers only when launching new products. You must see ways to continually engage.

His view was in the majority.  The consensus on increasing trust centered on the need for meaningful engagement – being transparent, communicating often, and creating partnerships with key stakeholders to bring them into the process of helping shape what you sell.

Russell Dubner is president and CEO, Edelman U.S.

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